Over 60% of Russians don't want Sputnik V vaccine, see coronavirus as biological weapon - poll

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Nearly two thirds of Russians are not willing to receive Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, and about the same number believe the new coronavirus was created artificially as a biological weapon, an independent pollster said on Monday.

The Levada Center said a poll it conducted last month showed that 62% of people did not want to get Russia's domestically produced vaccine, and that the highest level of reluctance was identified among 18 to 24-year-olds.

Most respondents cited side effects -- which can include fever and fatigue -- as the main reason for not wanting to get vaccinated.

The poll, which sampled 1,601 people in 50 regions, also found that 64% of people thought the new coronavirus was created as a biological weapon.

The origin of COVID-19 has been highly politicised, but the majority of virologists and infectious disease experts say it is most likely to have evolved naturally.

A World Health Organization (WHO) mission to China said last month that it was not looking further into whether the virus escaped from a lab, which it considered highly unlikely.

The mission has said its main hypotheses are that the virus originated in a bat, although there are several possible scenarios for how it passed to humans, possibly first by infecting another species of animal.

The belief that the virus was created as a biological weapon is predominant in Russians aged 40-54, with 71% of them holding that view, the poll found. Only 23% think the virus emerged naturally.

Russia, which has recorded nearly 4.3 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, has approved three vaccines against COVID-19.

The country of around 145 million people launched a mass vaccination campaign with Sputnik V in December. On Feb. 10, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that more than two million Russians have been vaccinated with at least the first dose of Sputnik V.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Ed Osmond)